Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 1-0 win against the Dallas Stars:
In late November, Josh Harding announced to the hockey world that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Harding didn’t know what it would mean for his hockey career. Well, if tonight is any indication, we are all hopeful he will be able to play, at a high level, for a long, long time. For a guy who battled back from a season-ending knee injury two years ago, it would’ve been easy for him to hang his head and ask, “Why me?” However, Harding’s attitude has remained positive and has come back this season ready help the Wild make serious playoff run.
Both teams had several chances throughout the game, but Harding and Cristopher Nilstorp were locked in. If this were the Wild West, these two would meet outside a saloon at High Noon and gone at it mano-a-mano: Fastest glove wins.
In the waning minutes of the game, Harding made his biggest save of the contest. Dallas was shorthanded and Derek Roy made a centering pass to the ageless wonder Ray Whiney. The 40-year-old broke in on Harding and the Wild netminder shut him down, stone cold.
Although the Wild only posted a single goal, one thing that you have to like about this revamped roster is the amount of shots the team generates. Last season, the Wild averaged 26.5 shots per game. In the first two games, the Wild has accumulated 35 and 32 shots, respectively. Yes, after only two games it’s far too early to call it a pattern, but this season, the club is not afraid to fire pucks from anywhere.
Two guys you never have to worry about passing up a shot are Cal Clutterbuck and Dany Heatley. They had five shots apiece and were all over the offensive zone creating chances. Another guy that is going to get a boatload of shots and chances is Zach Parise. Yesterday, he rifled eight and added three more shots tonight. Of course, against the Stars he broke through…
That must’ve felt good. Minnesota loves its homegrown talent, but for a guy with the expectations of the entire State of Hockey on his shoulders, it is a heavy burden. However, Parise has come through in his first two games, and tonight he came through with the game winner on a rocket one-timer. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who was again excellent, bought time on the left side and found Parise in the slot. The winger didn’t waste any time and hammered a one-timer over Nilstorp’s glove.
Parise is one of eight penalty killers that Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has relied upon through two games; a penalty kill that hasn’t allowed a power play. It’s awfully nice to have eight guys up front that can penalty kill, and penalty kill well. The blue line was solid shorthanded with Ryan Suter again leading the way. However, the depth the Wild can roll out on the front line will pay dividends down the line.
Only three of the Wild’s top-six forwards, Parise-Koivu-Cullen, are on the penalty kill. That gives the other three forwards time to rest and an opportunity to expend their energy on even strength and power play chances. The other killers, Brodziak-Clutterbuck-Konopka-Mitchell-Powe, all know their roles and know them well. When guys buy into their roles, especially early in the season, it means that there is a solid locker room, which I talked about in yesterday’s Takeaways.
Speaking of a guy who knows his role, Zenon Konopka is quickly becoming a fan favorite only two games into the new season. He is like Col. Nathan R. Jessup in “A Few Good Men.” He does things that would make most people weak in the knees.
Need proof? Check out this photo. Konopka was hit with a high stick, started leaking all over the place like a blood sprinkler system…and finished his shift. Seriously, freaking finished his shift. He received about 30 stitches and played tonight. Asked before the game if he would drop the gloves if he had to tonight, he didn’t hesitate. Yes, whatever it takes for the team to win. The Wild’s skill players can skate easier, knowing Konopka is on that wall.
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